IT WAS already more than four years ago, but the then 20-year-old Elmeer Meeynard Calimpos can still vividly remember the images of the children swimming at the dirty coastlines of Purok Crossing Otso in Barangay Tangub, Bacolod City.

In November 2017, Calimpos along with some friends had the opportunity to visit the community in the southern portion of the highly urbanized city, the capital of Negros Occidental.

Feeling devastated, they witnessed how children enjoyed playing in a degraded shoreline full of trash, including single-use objects like diapers, napkins, sando bags, sachets, and worse, feces of both animals and humans.

“It was ultimately heartbreaking when we knew that they were doing such, competing for trash to sell in order to earn a small amount of money, without minding the risk of dirty surroundings to their health,” he recalled.

That experience has made him ponder and ask himself what can they do to increase the level of consciousness of the children about the environment, and how can they mobilize communities towards an empowered and active climate action.

From that point, Calimpos dreamed of building, one at a time, a community of children and youth who are environmentally conscious and climate-literate.

“So, at an early age, they may be able to make informed and responsible decisions with regards to actions that may affect the environment, climate and planet that they live in,” he shared.

The birth

Just a few months later, in February 2018, Calimpos and his close friends decided to start an organization that focuses on creating safe spaces for children and youth of Bacolod City and Negros Occidental to talk about climate change and marine pollution, which are two of the most pressing intergenerational issues in the planet.

With shared vision and dreams for the future generation, the group called the organization as “Bacolod Core: Children Optimization for the Revitalization of Environment.”

Calimpos, who is its chairperson and founder, said this is a youth-led and community-based organization with a heart for building communities of environmentally conscious children for the children, of their children, the nation, and God.

Through the three-year old group, the volunteer-members have been advocating for a multi-step learning process to the children on their formative stage.

This is through inculcating values of environmental stewardship through education, experiential learning and exposure for a sustainable and balanced ecology.

It is the organization’s goal to empower the children, enable them to advocate for the environment even in their formative years.

Ecological Saturdays

Bacolod Core’s flagship project is the Ecological Saturdays Initiative (Ecosats), which is also geared towards developing communities of environmentally conscious and empowered children.

Ecosats is a multi-step learning process for children aged nine to 12 years old dwelling in urban communities of the Negros Occidental capital city.

Calimpos said the project is after instilling values to young learners on their earliest awareness stage as possible.

The implementers conduct weekly activities that will capacitate children towards environmental awareness and action.

The activities include Saturday classes, creation of simple outputs for the environment like growing plants using recycled pots, making of nature-themed posters to be showcased on social media, watching climate-related videos online, saving money through Bamboo Coin Banks, interactive learning sessions with the parents and guardians, and election of Ecosats learner-officers.

“This initiative is community-based, data driven, and has a long term impact on its community partners,” he said, adding that “Ecosats also serves as an extension classroom for learners who are driven and inspired to develop their climate literacy.”

Pilot community

From where everything started, in the exact place that captured the attention of Calimpos and other youth environment advocates a few years back, the pilot community of the project began to grow.

Purok Crossing Otso is actually a biodiversity-rich area where the community constantly catches their daily needs.

It has a total number of 3, 011 residents as of June 11, 2018 and most of the residents depend on fishing and other coastal activities as their means of living.

In December 2018, 20 children of the purok were identified to be the first batch of recipient-learners.

Since it was prior to the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic, the eight weeks of Ecosats were conducted face-to-face specifically at the purok chapel located near the coastline.

The children were exposed to educational activities and experiential learnings to increase their knowledge on climate change as well as basic concepts of the environment like plants and animals.

Aside from lectures, there were also “light” activities where children can be entertained like actual recycling, hand washing, vegetable planting, and tours within the community.

So, it was really a holistic approach, Calimpos said, adding that they implemented the program purely through volunteerism.

“We really started from scratch, we were able to live within the budget,” he said.

The group’s fund came from the members’ speaking engagements in various public and private schools.

“We accept speaking engagements and 50 percent of the honorarium goes to the project implementation,” Calimpos shared.

In December 2018, the organization was able to successfully produce 20 Ecosats graduates. From having no idea about what is happening in the environment at first, they are now considered as “Core heroes.”

Due to the success of its initial implementation, the project started to create a growing interest among other children in the community.

Thus, in September 2019, another batch of 30 Ecosat learners joined the eight-weekend journey. In February of the following year, they were able to also graduate.

Purok Crossing Otso, which was once a place for children playing in a dirty coastline, now has 50 “Core heroes” regarded as climate-literate future generation citizens.

‘Core hero’

One of them was 12-year-old Jeneca Flores, who was then nine years old when she joined the Ecosats.

“Natingala ko kun ngaa nagalibot sila ni manang kag manong sa amon lugar, sang gin-explain na sa amon nga about gali sa environment ang ila itudlo nagpalista na ko dayun [I was curious why they (Core members) were roaming around our place, and when they explained that they will be teaching about environment, I had my self listed on the program],” she said.

At an early age, Flores has recognized the need to change the face of their community.

“Damo basura, ang mga bata nga iban gapaligo sa baybay bisan higko [There were so many garbage, some children were swimming even in a dirty water],” the Grade 6 pupil told SunStar Bacolod.

The child also admitted that before, she doesn’t have care for the environment.

But, by attending the Ecosats lessons and activities, Flores eventually grew love for it. She learned how to segregate garbage, grow and harvest plants and vegetables, and save through ecobank, among others.

“Now, I am the one segregating our garbage at home. Unlike before, we now have separate garbage bags for biodegradable and non-biodegradable wastes,” she said, adding that “I understand now that calamities like flood happen because of our wrongdoings, because of the garbage that we clogged in the canal.”

Being the youngest of the six siblings, Flores would always teach her older brothers and sisters on how to properly segregate their garbage at home.

At present, she also serves as the vice president of Bacolod Core - Purok Crossing Otso Chapter. “I promise to live what I have learned,” the child said.

Calimpos said they are happy that their group had given birth to another organization with structure and is composed of “Core heroes” who will help sustain the program in the community.

Flores, along with fellow officers, has been actively initiating activities in the community like coastal cleanup drive and educating fellow children on how they can help protect and conserve the environment even in their simple ways.

Coping with pandemic

Like many of the other organizations, the continuity of Bacolod Core’s initiative has been challenged by the unprecedented coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.

In March of 2020, restrictions were imposed following the declaration of the World Health Organization (WHO) that Covid is already a pandemic.

Movement of people in the country seemingly stopped. Lockdowns were implemented. Face-to-face classes ceased and so are the organization’s Ecosat activities.

But such an adversity did not totally paralyzed the organization in its vision to create more communities of environmentally conscious children in Bacolod City.

The Bacolod Core did not lose its ultimate core. Rather, it made use of the first 15 months of the pandemic to strategize and come up with a means to continue realizing the group’s vision despite the challenges brought by the health crisis.

Adapting to change, the organization has utilized the blended learning method for the children to continue attending the Saturday activities even just within their homes.

Calimpos said they tapped the help of Alliance of Synergized Secondary Education Teachers (Asset) of the University of St. La Salle - Bacolod for the crafting of a standardized and comprehensive module that is templated with that of the Department of Education (DepEd).

The topics included in the modules are Our Environment, Plants, Animals, Air Pollution, Water Pollution, Land Pollution, Deforestation, Climate Change, Improper Waste Disposal, Ozone Depletion, Illegal Fishing, and Species Extinction.

The modules which are “clear and simple” use the “Mother Tongue” as medium because during their talks with the barangay officials and parents, it was suggested that Hiligaynon language would be better understood by the children.

The group also utilized a portion of the P100,000 fund it recently received as a program grant from the Foundation for the Philippine Environment (FPE) in printing the modules, which are distributed every other Saturday.

The members of the organization personally bring the modules to the houses of the children while complying to health protocols like wearing of face masks and social distancing.

“We are alloting a week in between two Saturdays for monitoring and periodic evaluation. There, we assess if the children are experiencing challenges in learning through the modules,” he added.

Going digital

Aside from the fact that they cannot hold the Ecosat on a full face-to-face activity, part of the requirements of the funder is to implement parts of the project digitally.

During the profiling of the recipient-children, it was found out that they, or their parents, have android phones.

So the group is providing a P50 load to each of the children weekly, which they can use to have mobile data for internet access.

Calimpos said at the end of every module, children are instructed to make a reflection from the video that they can watch through Youtube or download via Google Drive.

Aside from those written at the module, the links are also sent to the children via messenger.

Calimpos said the content includes simple videos on raising awareness towards environment preservation, activities like how to make creative pots, and sometimes interactive lectures that are shot and produced by the members.

“The deepest reason why we need to integrate the digital aspect in this effort is because it’s sort of emphasizing to them also the importance of media literacy,” he said, stressing that children should be guided as to what content they should watch online.

“It’s more on giving them correct information about the environment, about what is real about climate change. Because, we believe that there is a relationship between climate literacy and media literacy,” the organization founder said.

Building more communities

Using this blended learning scheme, the group successfully executed the project for two more batches of 60 children in July 2021.

Of which, 30 are still from the coastal community of Barangay Tangub while the other 30 youth are from Barangay 27, still in Bacolod City.

These new batches of “Core heroes” are currently on their last part of the eight-week Ecological Saturdays Initiative. They will be graduating this month.

The purok and barangay officials, along with the parents, helped in identifying and profiling of would-be Ecosats learners.

Calimpos said they identified Barangay 27 as another host-community of the project as, like Purok Crossing Otso in Barangay Tangub, environment as well as social woes also exist there.

Illegal drug problem is prevalent in the barangay, something which the organization is also trying to lessen by engaging the youth in worthwhile activities and diverting their attention from possible vices.

“Basically, humans are good. So we hope that through environmental initiatives, we can change the perspective of other people towards this barangay,” he said.

After the graduation, the graduates will also form themselves as Bacolod Core-Barangay 27 Chapter with officers who can organize and initiate various activities in the barangay.

Initial gains

After about three years of ground work and interaction with receptive community people, the youth-led environment group has started reaping initial gains particularly through the Ecosats inititaive.

Results of their monitoring and evaluation activity showed that the children have increased their knowledge, skills and abilities, and developed a positive attitude towards social responsibilities.

In terms of action, the children are now conscious not to throw their garbage anywhere and instead recycle it if possible, Calimpos said.

In fact, these positive changes among the Ecosats learners are very evident at their respective homes.

Forty-year-old Marelen Vargas, of Purok Star Apple II in Barangay 27, said she is happy that her son, 10-year-old John Michael, was able to join the program.

Vargas noticed that John Michael now knows how to properly segregate his garbage, clean their house, plant in their backyard, and even save energy consumption.

“Kabalo na siya sang parte sa polusyon nga kun ako lang ya gani daw indi ko na mayo matudlo sa iya [He now knows about pollution which I cannot explain to him well],” the mother joyfully shared.

Vargas added that, “bisan bata pa lang siya, daw siya pa ang role model sa amon balay subong man sa iya mga kahampang [despite being a kid, he is the one acting as a role model at home as well as to his playmates].”

Though the main actors of the program are the children, the organization also saw a positive impact towards the parents, especially in terms of their involvement in various activities in the barangay.

They are more actively participating in cleanup drives and their level of knowledge and awareness towards environment and climate change also notably increased, Calimpos said.

A positive gain is also evident in the community level, especially in the pilot community. The officials have shown more care about environment preservation, he said.

In Barangay 27, the community started initiating regular cleanup drive activities. Gardens, including those of vegetables, started to sprout in many backyards and vacant lots.

In Barangay Tangub, the Purok Crossing Otso officials are currently implementing policies like restricting the residents, especially children, to dump their garbage into the sea.

Purok president Elizer Arca told SunStar Bacolod that aside from regular coastal cleanup drive activities, they are also constantly conducting information dissemination to the households.

Arca said they are also in constant dialogues with the parents about the need to clean the surroundings.

“Our community has changed a lot. Before, garbage disposal was really a major problem here. Now, the people have their own garbage sacks, they are already trained on how to properly manage their waste,” he added.

The purok official thanked Bacolod Core for the knowledge they shared to the children in the community and garbage cans the group had provided to the barangay.

“Our purok was frequently experiencing floods before. But now, we can really feel that this problem has been mitigated,” Arca said, adding that could be attributed to the positive change in people’s attitude towards the environment.

The purok officials committed to continue supporting the cause of the group, and to work hand in hand with them in making a rippling positive effect through one, reaching more children in the community to be future “Core heroes.”

In fact, the purok already offered a space for the group’s plan to develop an Ecosats Learning Hub which they positioned to serve as venue for future engagements of the project.

Looking forward

The Bacolod Core is aware that change is a process, and the full impact of the program can be felt in the long run.

But with the sustained participation, involvement and commitment of the children, parents, public officials and other stakeholders, the organization is optimistic that the initial success will yield more gains in the future.

“As we continue the project in the midst of the pandemic, the initiative is not solely focused on the children sector but rather involves their family and entire community in the helping process,” its founder said.

Calimpos said they look forward to replicating the Ecosats Initiative to other puroks and barangays in Bacolod City and Negros Occidental.

They are also working on registering the organization in the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) so they can connect to more organizations and funder to further implement the project.

Being able to raise funds, the group can also fund and help other organizations by also sharing the grants to them so they can also implement the project on their own, Calimpos said.

“We look forward to having children regardless of profession to always have that environmental aspect in them that they will bring as they grow old,” he said.

Recognizing that climate change is one of the biggest issues in the 20th century, the organization believed that “we cannot proceed with other advocacies and social issues like Covid-19, poverty and extraction of natural resources if we don’t have a livable planet.”

Community development or grassroots activism is vital to social change, and that the conservation of natural resources remains connected to the quality of life that awaits the future generation, it added.

For the youth leader, their Ecosats is beyond giving modules and other learning materials to young children because for three years, it evolved into something special and valuable to different spaces as they continue to share their stories from the ground.

Far from the faces of the children they saw at a dirty coastline years ago, hopeful Calimpos said he can now imagine a city and province that are free from children who are irresponsible and not perceptive about environmental issues.